I do think there’s something so comfortingly nostalgic in a simple sheet cake. Like the cakes our mothers use to make before Instagram, when it didn’t really matter how pretty or trendy or photogenic or impeccably styled the food was. There was no such thing as an ombré, eight-layer, tiered, naked cake because, in those days, a cake was as much a frosting delivery device as it was a celebratory exclamation point. Don’t get me wrong, I love the creative cake movement. But in the days of sheet cakes, what was really important was that there was an occasion worth celebrating, and what better way than with a thick slab of heavily frosted cake.
I haven’t taken a lot of photos over the past few weeks. I’ve given myself a refreshing digital detox. It’s important to step away from something temporarily when it no longer brings joy. To tell you the truth, I’m kind of burned out by all the overly styled images on social media which, to me, feel cold and lifeless in their perfection. A dichotomy exists between these flawless pictures in perfect little squares lined up in perfect little rows coupled with the expectation that, as a “share-all” culture, we should post even the most mundane moments of our private lives, perhaps as proof that we’re still living. In doing so everything becomes a bit flat. By elevating the mundane we simultaneously diminish life’s truly amazing moments so that the peaks and valleys of our existence fade into a monotonous equilibrium which can be neatly arranged into one uniformly even grid. None of this makes sense to my wild Gen-X brain. For those of us who grew up without the omnipresence of technology in our pockets and purses begging us to snap a photo or send a quick tweet, there was an alluring sense of mystery that’s since been lost. If someone didn’t answer their phone you had to wonder… where were they. Your mind would start to wander. Were they on a walk? At a party? With a lover? Dead? One thing was certain: they must be doing something absolutely more interesting than you were and the only thing left to do was to call back later and hope to be filled in on the details (and, if you were like me, perhaps bake a cake to pass the time). Part of me misses that ability to quietly slip away and disappear into the world. But I digress – we were talking about cakes.
Though I didn’t take a lot of pictures, I did make a lot of cakes. Our traditional Bûche de Noël for Christmas, a poppyseed pound cake for New Years Day, simple chocolate cakes and financiers (French almond cakes) for the weeknights before, after and in between. And it made me so happy to not fuss over or style a single one. Like this carrot and pineapple cake, dusted with grated nutmeg, which we had on the last Sunday before Christmas and which my husband declared was his favourite. It’s the simplest of cakes, blanketed in casual swoops of cream cheese frosting and a shower of fresh Caribbean nutmeg. And with more pineapple than carrots, this is my kind of holiday fruit cake.
Carrot and Pineapple Sheet Cake
for the cake
1 can (20 oz.) crushed pineapple
1 cup butter, melted
1 cup brown sugar
3/4 white sugar
3 eggs, room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups shredded carrots (about 2 large carrots)
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
for the frosting
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 TBSP whole milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 cups powdered sugar
fresh grated nutmeg
Preheat the oven to 350 F (180 C). Butter a 13 x 9 inch baking dish, line with parchment paper and lightly butter the paper.
Drain the pineapple in a sieve set over a bowl. Press lightly to remove most of the juice. Measure out 2 Tablespoons of pineapple juice and set aside. Discard or save the rest for another use.
In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter and sugars until fluffy. Add the eggs and continue beating. Beat in the reserved pineapple juice and the vanilla.
Stir in the carrots and drained pineapple.
Sift together the flour, cinnamon, baking soda and salt. Stir this into the wet ingredients until just mixed.
Pour the batter into the prepared baking dish and spread evenly. Bake for 35 – 38 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Allow the cake to cool completely before frosting.
Make the frosting: beat the cream cheese, butter, milk and vanilla until smooth. Gradually beat in the powdered sugar, one cup at a time, until the frosting is fluffy. Spread over the cooled cake. Grate the nutmeg evenly over top.